Since the haphazard suggestion was made in the past, I have continued to occasionally pick a game solely for its dragon-related content. To me, the concept of playing as a dragon is way more interesting than fighting one, since the latter can be found in countless games and the former turns out to be a bit more rare. Also I just kinda like dragons. What? They’re cool. They have all kinds of incarnations, their lore is varied across different cultures, and just in general they fly around, breathe fire (or what have you) and hoard stuff. My favorite dragon happens to be the copper dragon, because they love to play tricks, crack jokes, and tell stories.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m happy to have the excuse to pursue dragon-related games. And today, if you haven’t yet guessed, I plan to continue my quest with a platformer that puts you into the scales of a young dragon, with many different dragon abilities. Today’s game is an endearing endeavor by Brainbox Software called Dragon’s Wake.
Dragon’s Wake follows the life of a newly-hatched dragon during a time where a knight has taken it upon himself to eliminate the scaly threat from his kingdom. As you progress through the levels, the dragon grows and gains abilities, such as advanced gliding, fire-breating, and a devastating ground pound. This growth occurs after eating certain enemies, typically with matching characteristics to the devoured beast. With these skills, the young dragon must escape slaughter and mature to hopefully continue dragon-kind. The young dragon is not alone however, as a tribe of reptilian people who seem to revere dragons provide aid and training for the perilous journey to come. Spurred on by these allies, the dragon struggles to make it to the surface.
Dragon’s Wake’s gameplay is overall pretty solid. The platforming is well designed, the jump mechanics well balanced, and things like hit detection are fairly intuitive. The dragon gains abilities (or loses them!) due to decisions made in the game, creating the possibility for multiple varied gameplay experiences. Level layouts are fairly straightforward, but seldom dull, and often times they are designed to go in a circle, so once you’ve accomplished your goal, you will then be able to come right back to the starting point, rather than trek backwards through the cave again. It is clear that enjoyable gameplay was in mind when this game was being made.
The story of the game is told exclusively through art and animation – no dialogue is ever displayed and the only voices heard are in an unintelligible language. The drama is meant to come from the action, and this too is accomplished fairly well. Between levels, there are still loading scenes depicting the dragon’s quest through the cave, and the prominent events and discoveries that take place therein.
The art in this game is difficult for me to assess. The sprites and animations are done really nicely, but the still images are what I am split on. On the one hand, it certainly comes off as a bit amateurish, and tends to convey an overly child-like aesthetic. In fact, a great deal of it feels more like concept art than anything that should be finalized for a game. On the other hand… It’s actually really cute. There’s something very endearing about these pictures, and even if the quality is inconsistent and the style seems to slip, it still kind of warms my heart. I’m not sure if I want to suggest that tighter quality control be implemented for any future game that comes from this developer, or to just sort of trust their judgment. Perhaps I’ll just stick to some common advice and encourage the artists to never stop practicing.
One other place the game fell short to me was literal one: game time. Although I thought the general idea around the ending was a good one, to me it felt rushed. It seemed like the moment I got a fully realized adult dragon, with all kinds of strength and skills, it was taken from me because the game just ended. Now perhaps I’m being too demanding of a small-scale developer, and perhaps I should be glad they chose quality over quantity, however I can’t lie, I wish I could have had a little more play time beyond the final boss.
The overall experience of Dragon’s Wake is actually a very sweet one. There’s a darkness and a light to the young dragon’s upbringing that never becomes dominated by one or the other. Though the art had several novice aspects, it retains a charm that can be enjoyed, if one overlooks the sloppier bits. The decision-making aspect of the game is blended in rather seamlessly, and it tends to matter in a much more obvious way than some games accomplish. Dragon’s Wake is available for $3.99 on Steam, and I’d say it’s worth it. In a few ways, the game is a lot like it’s main character – it’s a strong, big-hearted contender in a small, unassuming package.